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By Pankaj Shah
Recent medical advances have made breast cancer a highly manageable disease, especially when detected early, as in the case of stages 0-to-II cancers. Timely treatment also minimises disruptions to the patient's daily routine and quality of life. Advancements in digitalization have also greatly benefited women, as they can easily access information through YouTube on how to self-examine themselves and learn about breast anatomy or changes in breast structure that should be brought to the notice of specialists immediately.
Women above the age group of 20 -25 years should examine themselves monthly, and those above 40 years of age should go for mammography at regular intervals. With earlier breast cancer detection, the survival rate increases to 80 per cent (Stage 1 and stage 2), as compared to 56 per cent in Stage 3 and stage 4.
In India, however, early treatment is the exception rather than the norm. By the time most patients are diagnosed, they are already in stage III or IV of the disease, where treatment modalities are more complex. Additionally, the stigma of living with breast cancer can hamper the patients' quality of life in physical, psychological, and social terms.
Mental health counselling, family and institutional support, and new drugs and modalities can help women at all stages of breast cancer to improve life expectancy, health, and overall happiness, thus ticking all the boxes for improved life quality.
Stigma and suffering
One in 28 Indian women is at risk of developing breast cancer during her lifetime. As per a CII report, the median age for diagnosis is 46 years, and nearly half of all diagnosed women are premenopausal, i.e., relatively young compared to breast cancer patients in Western nations. The concern, though, is that at the time of diagnosis, around 70 per cent of Indian women are already in stage III or stage IV (known as metastatic breast cancer, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body). While getting screened early may seem like an evident solution, however, low awareness and culturally ingrained stigmas still prevent many women from getting the timely help they need.
Due to cultural factors and social taboos, women do not get checked for breast cancer or share their symptoms with others, thereby leading to delayed diagnosis. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only amplified the burden of our healthcare system, magnifying these delays.
Due to cultural factors and social taboos, women do not get checked for breast cancer or share their symptoms with others, thereby leading to delayed diagnosis. | Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash
A QOL-itative approach
Focusing on patients' QOL means helping them thrive on the physical, emotional, and social parameters by improving their all-around experience of the disease. New hope has also come in the form of targeted therapies that shrink or remove tumors by disabling specific proteins on cancerous cells to block their growth. These therapies, which can often be taken orally, allow patients to bypass chemotherapy and related harsh side effects. Targeted therapies are proving more effective than chemotherapy in extending the survival rates of patients with stage III or IV cancers up to 5-8 years even if a patient is diagnosed at a metastatic stage.
The rise of non-invasive, chemo-free targeted therapies is opening a new front in the battle against advanced and metastatic breast cancer. By reducing or eliminating frequent hospital visits and the side-effects they earlier took for granted, it is possible to enhance patients' physical and psychological well-being and to help them live longer with dignity and independence.
Breast cancer doesn't mean the end of life. Today, treatment options for breast cancer have advanced, giving hope to patients even in advanced stages. Nowadays, due to government policies (Ayushman Bharat), every woman, regardless of her social strata, can avail of world-class cancer treatment in medical facilities across the country. Even in advanced stages, families should not lose hope, as newer drugs such as molecular therapy treatment have proven effective for patients suffering from hormone-positive breast cancer, which is the most common form of cancer among Indian women. As many as 60 to 90 per cent of patients respond to these advanced treatments positively, enabling them to lead an enhanced quality of life. With such innovations, cancer can be viewed as a chronic disease that needs management.
Breast cancer doesn't mean the end of life. | Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash
Awareness-building and sensitization are key. Educating women and girls in urban and rural contexts about breast cancer, the importance of regular self-monitoring, and de-stigmatizing medical examinations and advanced treatment options, so that they can maximise their chances of identifying and beating the disease. It would also help address psychosocial impacts like anxiety, depression, or fear by making therapy or psychiatry facilities accessible, affordable, and un-stigmatized for patients. This would also include teaching families and communities to support patients by accompanying them for treatments, helping with chores, spending time with them, and not letting them feel like a "burden".
The late American writer John Diamond said that cancer is "a word and not a sentence". However, for lakhs of women, breast cancer is a life-changing reality. While conventional treatments for breast cancer are constantly evolving and their efficacy is undeniable, life after a breast cancer diagnosis is about more than survival (extending the patient's life) or pain management (alleviating physical discomfort). What's required is a holistic approach towards improving the quality of the patient's life -- and this is being understood today. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: breast cancer, breast cancer awareness month, cancer disease treatment, women health
A team of researchers has developed, at the laboratory level, a prototype of a new biosensor to help detect breast cancer in its earliest stages.
The development of this biosensor falls within the field known as liquid biopsy, which helps detect the presence of cancer through a blood test.
It is easy to use, low cost, and provides results in a very short time — between 30 and 60 minutes — from a sample of the patient’s plasma, suggests the study published in the journal ACS Sensors.
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Currently, mammography is the most widely used standard technique for diagnosis, but it has some limitations, such as exposure to radiation, and lower sensitivity and specificity in young women with dense breast tissue.
“Therefore, new diagnostic tools are needed to aid in the early detection of breast cancer. Our biosensor is along these lines,” said researcher Ana Lluch from the University of Valencia in Spain.
According to the latest data collected by the European Cancer Information System (ECIS), 34,088 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in 2020 in Spain.
The biosensor is composed of a nanomaterial — a nanoporous alumina — that facilitates the detection in plasma of miR-99a-5p microRNA, which is associated with breast cancer.
Until now, this has been done by using complex and time-consuming techniques, which means that this system could not be used as a diagnostic tool in the clinical setting, the researchers said.
“The next step in our work will be validating our system in a larger group of patients,” the researchers noted. (IANS/KB)
(breast cancer, symptoms of breast cancer, what is novel biosensor, cancer in women, detection of breast cancer)
A novel breast cancer treatment that takes just five minutes instead of the current two and a half hours has been launched across the UK by the National Health Service (NHS) England. The injection called Phesgo will be offered to eligible patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, undergoing chemotherapy. It takes as little as five minutes to prepare and administer, compared with two infusions that can take up to two and a half hours.
Phesgo jabs can be given alongside chemotherapy or on their own. The injection will also significantly cut down the risk of COVID infection for cancer patients by reducing the amount of time spent in the hospital. “This new injection, which can substantially cut treatment time for people with breast cancer, is the latest in a series of changes which have meant the NHS has been able to deliver vital cancer treatment while keeping patients safe from Covid,” Peter Johnson, NHS national clinical director for cancer, said in a statement.
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Phesgo is a fixed-dose combination of pertuzumab with trastuzumab that previously would have been given as separate IV infusions. “Approval of Phesgo being used on the NHS in England is fantastic news as thousands of women with HER2 positive breast cancer will now benefit from a quicker and kinder treatment method,” said Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now.
“Reducing the time patients need to spend in hospital, this more efficient treatment method also promises to free up precious time for healthcare professionals when the NHS is already under unprecedented strain due to COVID-19,” Morgan added.
The NHS has prioritized cancer care during the coronavirus pandemic and the latest figures show that hospitals carried out more than two cancer treatments for every patient they treated for COVID-19, the statement said. (IANS/SP)
Google’s health division is collaborating with Northwestern Medicine in the US on a new clinical research study to explore whether Artificial Intelligence (AI) models can help reduce the time to breast cancer diagnosis, narrowing the assessment gap and improving the patient experience.
Women who choose to take part in the study may have their mammograms reviewed by an investigational AI model that flags scans for immediate review by a radiologist if they show a higher likelihood of breast cancer, Google Health said in a blog post on Thursday. If a radiologist determines that further imaging is required, the woman will have the option to undergo this imaging on the same day.
This study will evaluate whether this prioritization could reduce the amount of time that women spend waiting for a diagnostic assessment. Women whose mammograms are not flagged will continue to have their images reviewed within regular timeframes. Every year, approximately 40 million women undergo breast cancer screening in the US using a procedure called mammography.
For some, this can be a nerve-wracking experience; many wait days or weeks before a radiologist can review their scan and provide initial screening results. Between 10 and 15 percent of women must return for a second visit and undergo more scans before receiving a final diagnostic assessment — drawing out the process further.
“With the use of artificial intelligence, we hope to expedite the process to the diagnosis of breast cancer by identifying suspicious findings on patients’ screening examinations earlier than the standard of care,” principal investigator of the study Sarah Friedewald, Chief of Breast Imaging at Northwestern Medicine said in a statement.
“Every patient in the study will continue to have their mammograms interpreted by a radiologist, but the artificial intelligence will flag and prioritize patients that need additional imaging, facilitating the flow of care.” This research study with Northwestern Medicine builds on previous research which demonstrated the potential of AI models to analyze de-identified retrospectively collected screening mammograms with similar or better accuracy than clinicians. (IANS/SP)